The Lesser of Two Evils - Finale
An Earth - Final Conflict story by Tina Price
Preview: Boone and Lili find themselves at the center of some dangerous politicking.
Disclaimer: Earth - Final Conflict and all characters therein are the property of the Tribune Entertainment Company.
Authors note: This story is based upon my own idea of what is actually going on in the EFC universe. I am in no way receiving 'privileged information'. As always, advice, criticism and kudos are always welcomed. Please contact me at the above e-mail address.
The Lesser of Two Evils
Lili struggled to rise from
the hot pavement. There had been a blinding flash of white light and then...
"Ughh!" She found her cheek pressed against the pavement again as a leaden weight came down on her neck. It was someone's foot!
"Move and you're dead," a rough voice ground out. "How is he?" The voice went on to ask his buddy, who was moving around somewhere behind Lili.
"He's out cold. Doesn't look too good either."
"You idiot! You threw the concussion charge too close to him! You know we need these two alive!" The foot was lifted from Lili's neck. "Roll over...slowly. I may need you alive, but that doesn't mean I can't shoot you in the leg."
Lili did as she was told.
"What is it that you want?" Lili tried to get a look at Boone, but the second terrorist was bent over him, presumably trying to revive him.
"Just shut up and get in the shuttle, Marquette." He poked her with the end of his rifle. "We're going for a ride - before the real cops show up."
Da'an stared out the virtual
glass of Eh'har's audience chamber as Sandoval worked at directing the massive
search for the missing shuttle via his global. The pale alien seemed oblivious
to the frantic efforts of Eh'har's staff to keep his aide informed. He merely
continued to stare out at the tranquil ocean, visible from the embassy and
remained motionless until some unseen, unheard cue caused him to turn.
The Synod leader, Quo'on appeared in the chamber via data stream technology.
"It grieves me to hear of your losses," he offered both companions.
"We are not yet convinced that William Boone has joined the void," Da'an said, his head tilted downward in an attitude of sorrow.
"Has Agent Sandoval made any progress in tracking the missing shuttle?" Quo'on chose to overlook Da'an's unseemly behavior.
"It emerged over India before disappearing from our scanners," Sandoval spoke up. "I believe that whoever these people are, they know enough about the shuttles to direct Lili into turning off the links."
"It is our opinion that the Resistance is behind this incident," Quo'on related. "It is perhaps in retaliation for our failure to stop the approaching cataclysm, in which case..."
"...William Boone, like my own implants, will be executed," Eh'har continued. His eyes turned toward Da'an, as he empathized with his fellow companion's loss.
Quo'on nodded. "Those responsible for this outrage must be caught. They must be made an example of."
"We will inform you of any new developments," Eh'har said. Quo'on nodded and disappeared from view.
"Agent Sandoval." Da'an finally spoke. "Ready a shuttle. We shall return to Washington." He bowed slightly to Eh'har. "It would be best for us to carry on our part of the search from our own Embassy. It grieves me that our annual conference has come to so violent an end."
"As it grieves me." Eh'har paused and then descended from his chair. "I have decided not to leave my protectorate," he said softly as he approached his fellow.
"I anticipated that you might follow such a course." Da'an looked him straight in the eyes.
"You...do not disapprove?"
"I would do the same," Da'an looked downward. "but it adds to my sorrow to know that you shall soon be lost to me."
Each Taelon placed a hand on the other's chest for a few seconds before Da'an broke contact. Wheeling about, he left the chamber as quickly as he had ever before been seen to move.
William Boone awoke to find
himself in a shuttle seat, the restraints being the only thing keeping him from
slipping out. He felt BAD.
"What..." he began as he started to lift his right hand to his head...and froze as pain knifed up his arm and down his side. He quickly relaxed his arm.
"Your arm is broken," came a voice from his left. It was one of the phony cops, now dressed in a military uniform. Boone noted that he had a slight accent - probably Finnish.
"Thanks, I already noticed," he gasped. For some reason, he was having trouble breathing. Looking down to where his sleeve had been torn away, he could see that a pressure bandage had been applied to his upper arm. He realized with another shock that the tail end of his skrill was badly damaged. The symbiote was an unhealthy gray color and he knew, reaching out to it mentally with his CVI, that it was dying.
"Boone, are you OK?" It was Lili's voice.
"I've been better," he answered before turning his attention to the man in the chair in front of him, who was covering her with his rifle. "What exactly is it that you want?"
"Mr. Boone, we want what you want...to stop that comet," thug number one spoke over his shoulder. He too had an accent.
"Then why not put the rifle down? You already know that my skrill is disabled."
"I'm afraid that you're not calling the shots here, implant!" the thug snarled. "Your job is to help us relieve the Taelons of one of their weapons, after which you and your pilot will be released."
"Jonathan Doors..." Lili began.
"...is not calling the shots here," the thug interrupted. "We are a different branch of the Resistance. You didn't think that only you Americans were intelligent enough to start one, did you?"
At the confused looks which covered his hostages' faces, the thug continued. "Mr. Doors has been attempting to tie all the world-wide resistance branches together for some time now. When this little...emergency arose, it was decided that it would be in everyone's best interest if your plan was tied to someone other than the American faction of the group. My group volunteered, on the condition that we be allowed to do it our way."
"And your way includes killing innocent by-standers and trying to take out two Companions?" Boone was livid.
"It would have been a bonus to have killed Eh'har and Da'an, but we were satisfied with simply making the attempt. As to the by-standers ...they were both implants. They're better off as they now are."
Boone met Lili's eyes over the thug's head. He had little doubt that they would kill him when his part in the plan was over.
"We've reached our destination." Lili's arms flew before her face as she directed the shuttle's re-emergence into the time stream.
"We're about to pick up some passengers," the thug explained to Boone. "You and your assistant managed to kill five of our people."
Boone had to bite his lip to keep from retorting.
As Ronald Sandoval moved
through the alien structure located in the Country's Capitol, he worked hard to
keep the frustration he felt from showing on his face.
His admiration for Boone had reached its height that very afternoon as Da'an's other implant had risked his life for his companion.
Risked his life? Boone had probably given his life and here he stood, unable to even pinpoint those responsible! He hoped that Boone was dead...he and Lili both. Better that than to have them tortured into betraying Taelon secrets to the enemy!
Sandoval stopped on the Embassy's central ramp and balled up his fist. He had just left Da'an, unable even to give the companion any new information which might lead to the missing implant and pilot. He knew he had disappointed his companion, an event which he found nearly unbearable.
With an effort, he unballed his fist and began moving toward the embassy exit. Maybe he could call in some favors...
Up in his audience chamber,
Da'an sat stiffly within his chair and contemplated the loss he felt. Surely
this situation had nothing to do with Boone's covert operation to destroy the
comet - the human would never intentionally allow innocent lives to be harmed,
nor would he endanger a companion's life...
"You are broadcasting your feeling in this matter quite clearly," Quo'on stated as his image appeared within the chamber. He tilted his head at an inclination which telegraphed puzzlement. "Why do you grieve for your implant? His life was dedicated to serving you - and so he has."
"Boone is no mere implant," Da'an replied softly as he looked down toward his knees. "I believe him to be of paramount importance in our efforts to join with the humans. His passage would be a grave loss to our cause."
Quo'on nodded. "Boone is...uncommon. I believe that your feelings in this matter may be correct, however, there are those of us who did not approve of your close association with your implant."
"Zo'or," Da'an stated with some certainty.
"It matters not." Quo'on gestured with both hands. "Continue your search. The world shall know of Boone's sacrifice. He shall not pass without tribute."
Da'an gestured his understanding as Quo'on's image disappeared. He then lifted his head, revealing a look of pure determination.
"Boone has not yet passed," he whispered as though reassuring himself.
Somewhere in the Vicinity of Europe
Lili looked over at Boone,
frightened by the way he looked. He was pale and breathing shallowly. Worse
yet, his forehead was beaded with perspiration. He was showing all the symptoms
She had been moved to the chair next to his, both of them now covered by thug number two's rifle.
The shuttle had taken on four passengers in Germany, one of whom was a pilot. It was he who now controlled the shuttle. The extra passengers were standing behind those who were seated, gripping the seat backs to keep from being flung about as the shuttle swerved and banked.
From what she could see from her position, they were headed north, in the general direction of Newfoundland.
"Boone," she hissed, trying to get his attention.
He looked up at her, but seemed unfocused.
"No talking!" The man behind her chair boxed her ear.
"Ow! Hey!" She rounded on him. "Boone's hurt - badly! If you want your little outing to be a success, I suggest that you get him some decent medical help!"
Two of the men actually paused to give Boone a once-over.
"Nothing we can do for him right now," the ear-boxer sighed. "If I were you, I'd cooperate so that we can complete our task and get him some help."
Lili glanced back over at Boone. Although his head was down, she could see him watching her from the corners of his eyes. Was he perhaps pretending to be worse off than he actually was? With Boone, one was never quite sure...
A change in the engine's sound brought her attention around to the pilot, who was obviously beginning a landing.
"We're here," he stated simply.
A short while later, Boone
found himself crouched in the woods with five of the grunts. Lili had been left
behind with the shuttle pilot.
They were looking up a small slope at a perimeter fence. Directly behind it was a small metallic building. Obviously, as he had informed Doors, this was one of the military bases which housed a Taelon weapon.
"How are we getting in?" Boone whispered to the man next to him.
"Watch." was his only reply.
He didn't have to wait long. Within five minutes, the perimeter guard began his pass at this section of fence. The guard advanced until he was between the fence and the building, which shielded him from the watchtower. Once he reached this building's shadowed side, he stopped...and waved them in!
"We control this facility," the grunt next to Boone boasted. "Except for the two implanted guards, of course."
"Of course," Boone echoed.
The group quickly approached the fence, where the guard had already cut a hole in the chain link using a rubber insulated wire cutter.
"Can you keep it down?" thug number one asked Boone.
"Not if you want me to be conscious when we get inside," he wheezed. His breathing was growing more labored and the brief climb up the slope had left him dizzy. Boone was relatively sure that his lung was collapsing - a pneumothorax - his CVI informed.
The next few moments passed by in a haze, and it was with a shock that Boone discovered that the grunts had completed cutting a hole in the building's side. The perimeter guard had long since gone on with his patrol.
"Go on, implant," the thug shoved him forward. "Are you waiting for an invitation?"
Boone tried to take a deep breath and suddenly felt something give in his chest. It had been an instinctive but stupid move on his part, he realized belatedly as sudden dizziness overcame him. The last thing he recalled was a crushing pain spreading through his chest.
The soldiers stared at the American implant in shock as he collapsed at their feet.
"Quick, drag him inside!" thug one ground out.
Once everyone was in, the last grunt through the wall pulled the cut portion of metal siding back up into place, helping to camouflage the entrance.
The inside of the building had a dirt floor and was deserted save for a small concrete stairwell at its center. A large sign over the entrance door to the stairs read, "Authorized Personnel Only".
Boone was dragged closer to the stairs.
"I was afraid of this," thug number two said as he knelt down next to Boone. "His lung's collapsed. Hand me that O2 tank!"
The grunt who had been carrying the small emergency tank handed it over. Thug two wasted no time in putting the mask over Boone's face.
"Tell me that he's gonna be able to do his part in this, Peter!" thug one looked panicked.
The one called Peter nodded. "He's in a bad way, but he'll most likely come around. I suggest that we get him down inside the bunker before then."
The leader nodded and gestured for two of the men to lift the unconscious implant. He swung open the stairwell door and waved them to go first.
Leaving one man behind as a lookout, the rest of them moved down the stairs and gathered in the small chamber below. In front of them was a large door covered with Taelon symbols. A small console and screen were set into the wall next to it.
"Boone!" Peter gently patted the implant's cheeks.
With a groan, William Boone regained consciousness to find himself staring up at the large door.
"What does it say?" Thug one asked.
Boone was barely able to gasp out the translation. "It says, 'Grave Danger Within, Proceed with Utmost Care'." His eyes shifted to the side and came to rest on the console. "Help me up," he whispered.
Two of the men hoisted him to his feet and provided support by gripping him under the shoulders.
Boone activated the console and quickly read the instructions which flashed across the screen. Everything was exactly as Da'an had shown him it would be.
"Here goes nothing," he wheezed as he typed in the code.
There was a momentary silence and then the door slowly swung open, revealing another small chamber within. Boone moved forward with the aide of the two men supporting him as thug one followed.
The only thing within the room was a small rectangular, flat slab, roughly three feet by one foot by four inches in dimension. There were Taelon symbols at the center of its top surface.
"This is it?" the leader asked.
"Yup." Boone ran a hand over the slab's surface, causing the Taelon symbols to begin glowing. "Once we've got this back on the shuttle and you've taken me and Lili to a drop-off point, I'll program it for you," Boone whispered.
The leader stared him in the eye, but finally nodded his agreement. "What are you people waiting for?" He yelled, turning to look behind him. "Let's get going!"
Peter and the remaining grunt moved into the room, wrapped the weapon in an old army blanket and gently carried it out.
Fifteen minutes later, the
weapon, Boone and the two original thugs were back on board the shuttle with
Lili and the other shuttle pilot.
"Where are they going?" Lili asked as she watched the other three soldiers head back toward the base.
"They have a few things they need to do before they can leave," the leader said.
Peter had helped get Boone into the restraints of his seat and was now seated behind the two abductees along with the leader. They still had their guns out and Lili didn't doubt that they would use them if she or Boone tried anything.
She glanced over at Boone and sincerely doubted that he would be up to an escape attempt anyway. He wore an oxygen mask and seemed to be fighting to remain conscious.
The pilot adeptly put the shuttle into motion, taking them a goodly distance away from the base before leaving the current dimension.
"Next stop, the drop-off point," the leader announced.
Da'an leaned back in his
chair as an energy stream enveloped him. It was his time to rest and absorb the
energy which was to his species as food was to the humans.
As he lay there, he opened his mind, allowing it to wander...to search for a specific consciousness. He shied away from those of his fellow Taelons. Every so often he felt one of them reaching out to him, curious about his seemingly random wandering.
When he had touched his implant's thoughts a month ago, he had sought to impart knowledge to the human, but he had also been attempting to forge a bond... a mental link with him. It had not been meant to impinge upon the human's privacy - a concept which was becoming far less foreign to the Taelon - but rather, to provide some protection to the implant, should he be rendered incapable of conventional communication, as he now was.
Such a thing had never before been attempted with a human, but Boone had been able to receive knowledge during the link, which gave Da'an some hope that the bond had taken.
He continued his mental search...
With barely a bump, the Taelon Shuttle set down in the middle of a barren landscape.
"Where are we?" Lili asked the pilot.
He grinned. "The drop-off point."
"This is a desert!" Lili was outraged. "If you leave us here, we'll die!"
"That will be up to the Taelons, not us," the leader responded as he stood up. "If Mr. Boone here completes his task, we promise to bargain with his companion for his life."
"He'll never be allowed to bargain," Boone sighed. "It will be up to the Synod and you know what they'll say."
"For your sake I hope you're wrong." The leader frowned. "It's the best I can do. My superior wanted me to kill you as soon as this was over, but I talked him into this."
"Great." Boone grimaced. "I hope that you'll at least give us some provisions."
"We are not barbarians, Mr. Boone." The leader looked offended.
"No, of course not. You're the resistance," Boone's words were slurred. He was running out of time. "Better let me see that device..."
He completed the device's programming, with the help of his CVI, which calculated the comet's current position based upon the Taelon projections Da'an had showed him a month ago.
"It's set," he gasped. "All you need to do is make sure that this shuttle hits these coordinates." He pointed at the Taelon script which now appeared on the top of the weapon. "The shuttle's translation program will show them to you in our own numbering system. Once the shuttle arrives, the weapon will go off, vaporizing the comet."
The leader nodded. "It's nearly twilight," he said, indicating the landscape outside the shuttle. "The temperature is dropping rapidly. You should be fine until the sun comes up tomorrow."
At a gesture from him, the pilot and Peter grasped Boone and hoisted him from the shuttle. Lili followed at gun point.
"Take my advice," Peter said after helping to lay Boone down next to some brush. "After tomorrow, try to walk out. You might make it."
Lili's mouth gaped open in amazement at the man's stupidity. "I don't think he'll be going anywhere, do you?" She indicated Boone.
"I wasn't talking about him," Peter said as he began tossing bags of provisions and supplies out of the shuttle.
Two minutes later, the shuttle disappeared from view.
Lili checked Boone's oxygen. It was nearly empty. He had one more, larger canister which had been part of the shuttle's emergency supplies, but after that...
She stood and began scrounging the area for wood and anything else that might be useful. It was still incredibly hot out, but she knew that it would soon be uncomfortably cold. They could use some firewood. Once the sun rose they'd need a shelter. She planned on getting it built before she lost the daylight.
Boone watched her from where he lay on the ground. Lili knew what she was doing, which was just as well - he had no breath left with which to lend advice. He intentionally tried to relax and soon drifted off...
Da'an suddenly became aware of his implant. The very faintly felt, but familiar ego which was Boone's beckoned to him...
Boone wandered the desert landscape. It seemed that he had been walking for days...he was so tired. Catching his breath was nearly impossible.
He knew that he was dying and he certainly regretted it, but it was Lili he was concerned for. To die alone in the desert...it was not a pleasant way to end.
Boone continued his trek, searching the landscape for something, though he knew not what.
"I am here," came a familiar voice from his left.
Without pausing, Boone turned toward the voice and found Da'an walking alongside him. The Taelon was having no trouble keeping up with his grueling pace and the human stared at him in surprise. Da'an looked different - more human-like. His skin was a darker tone, his forehead smaller. He had eyebrows and long, black hair, although he still did not appear to be either male or female.
Boone shook his head and looked again. This time Da'an was himself.
"Am I already dead?" the implant asked.
"You still cling to this plane." Da'an grasped Boone's arm and stopped walking, making Boone stop as well. The human sighed, suddenly able to breath a little bit easier. Da'an gestured toward the land around them. "What is this place?" he asked.
Boone seemed to come wide awake - although he knew he still dreamed, he realized that Da'an was really with him. "Lili and I are in a desert," he said as he turned and gripped the Taelon's hands. They actually felt warm, rather than like cool plastic. "It's nearly sun-down," he continued. "Our abductors said that they would contact you, but Lili won't last more than one day in the desert. If she isn't found soon, she'll probably die."
"Whereas you expect to greet the void before then," Da'an stated with some certainty.
"You can't save me, Da'an," Boone stared into the Taelon's eyes. "but you can save Lili. Please, try...for me."
Da'an looked down at the ground and for a moment as his facade fell completely, revealing the blue being of energy he truly was. When he looked up again, he was once more humanoid.
"You must try to help me to locate you," he began. "Is this the way your surroundings appear right now?"
"I think so... it may be a little later now, darker..." he began...and nearly cried out in frustration as the dream faded away.
Lili was shaking him.
"Boone!" she shouted and then sat back as he groaned. "Thank goodness! I just changed your oxygen tank. The other one ran out sooner than I thought it would. I was afraid that you were thinking of leaving me for a second there..."
Boone cracked his eyes open to find that it was dark. Lili had covered him with a blanket and had wood all ready to light for a fire. It was as silent as death in their little camp.
He reached for her hand and squeezed it. "Da'an was just here," he gasped. "He's trying to find us."
"Riigghhtt..." Lili patted Boone's hand, content to humor him, then she turned her head away and bit her lip. She had to face it - he wouldn't be with her at sunrise.
Sandoval stood beside the
companion and watched as the data stream displayed a three dimensional representation
of the Earth. Da'an gestured and the globe stopped revolving with North America
clearly displayed before them.
"Boone is in a desert environment," the Taelon stated. "Moreover, he is located somewhere within this time zone. He is most likely within what you call the Mojave Desert."
"Da'an...this is a very big area to search. I cannot guarantee that we'll find him before sunrise..." Sandoval was overcome with the enormity of his task, and yet, to fail his companion...
"I have faith that you shall do your best, Agent Sandoval. I can ask no more than that." The North American Companion waved his arm, dispersing the data stream. "Please take one of our larger shuttles. Make certain that you have medical personnel with you."
Sandoval bowed slightly and moved quickly for the door. Time was of the essence if he was to have any chance of saving Boone...and winning his Companion's gratitude.
Two minutes later, Da'an received the call he had been waiting for. Boone's abductors were willing to make a deal. They would guide Da'an to Boone and Lili on the condition that the Taelons reversed their previous decision and destroyed the comet.
"I will require time to discuss this matter with the Synod," he responded.
"You've got thirty minutes." The soldier cut off his transmission.
Da'an wasted no time in communicating the incident to Quo'on.
"It concerns me greatly that you still believe that we shall reverse our decision," he admonished the companion. "If we are unwilling to risk the threat of discovery for millions of human lives, why would we do so for one implant?"
Zo'or, the Taelon liaison to the United Nations, broke into the conversation. "Many of us believe that Da'an has forged a bond with the human, William Boone. We have sensed him searching for his missing implant." Zo'or curled his lip in disapproval. "Our fellow companion may no longer be capable of fulfilling his duties in North America."
Quo'on turned to regard Da'an, his form glowing a brighter, white color with his agitation. Before he could speak, the North American Companion explained himself.
"The bond I formed with my implant is recent and I was not certain that it had actually taken until this night." Da'an looked directly at Quo'on, an attitude of defiance among his kind. "The bond I share with my implant does not alter my desire to help my own species. It does however enable me to see things in an entirely new perspective."
Da'an rose from his chair and moved closer to the data stream fields which projected Quo'on's and Zo'or's images. "I am now convinced that we are about to make a very grave error - one which may doom our species and the humans as surely as if we were to attract our ancient enemy's attention."
"The humans are even now hearing of the resistance's ultimatum via their communications networks. In failing to destroy the comet, we shall have demonstrated to them a complete lack of regard for human life. There will be 'blood' between our two races...to quote a human euphemism. Any trust which we have so far earned will be gone. Moreover...it will be far more difficult for us to regain it, if we recover it at all."
Da'an moved even closer to Quo'on's projection. "As you know, Boone has never yet proven wrong in his advice to us. I strongly suggest that we listen to his plea now."
Quo'on's coloration faded back to its usual blue tones as the Synod leader conferred with the rest of the Taelon ruling party. When he spoke, regret was clearly evident in his voice.
"Your insight into the situation moves me," he began. "However, there are those among us who remain unconvinced. I fear that the Synod's decision must stand."
Quo'on faded from sight, followed by Zo'or, who had remained long enough to look down his nose at Da'an.
The Taelon Companion to North America walked slowly and heavily back to his chair. There was little he could do but wait for Boone's abductors to call him back.
global bleeped at him, signaling an incoming call. He flipped it open and with
both surprise and relief noted that the caller was Boone's techno-hacker
"You took your time getting back to me," the implant sneered.
"You can't blame me for being cautious. I had no idea why you might be calling until I saw the latest news update," Augur sneered back.
"Let's get something straight," Sandoval retorted. "I don't like you. I don't like what you do... but I need your talents if we are to have any chance of finding Boone in time."
"And let me get something straight," Augur countered. "I'm not doing this for you! I'm doing it for Boone, so let's cut to the chase. What is it that I can do to help?"
"My hands are tied as far as any Taelon-controlled agency goes. I cannot go to NASA and ask them to scan the Mojave desert for signs of habitation...for example, a fire. You on the other hand..."
"...Can go in through the back door," Augur finished. "I'll be in touch," he said as he quickly cut the link.
Sandoval leaned back in his seat and rubbed his forehead. Unless Boone's unethical friend came through, finding the missing implant and his assistant would be all but impossible in the dark.
Lili wrapped her blanket more tightly about herself and stroked Boone's hair. He had been slipping in and out of consciousness for the past hour and she wanted him to know that he wasn't alone.
"It doesn't look like your Taelon friend is going to come through this time..." she whispered.
Boone never stirred.
The Taelon Shuttle Captain lay down next to her dying friend and looked up at the night sky. The stars were incredibly bright, the comet a brilliant harbinger of death. She blinked and stared at it.
"Incredible that something so beautiful could cause such calamity," she breathed.
There was a sudden, blindingly white flare in the comet's vicinity, brilliant enough to momentarily light up the surrounding landscape! Lili threw an arm over her eyes and turned her head away.
When she looked back, the unearthly glow was fading away and all trace of the comet was gone...
"Boone!" She shook the implant. "Boone!"
His only response was a groan.
"They've done it! They've destroyed the comet!"
Boone smiled briefly without opening his eyes. "But...who?" he wheezed before succumbing once more to the darkness.
Sandoval's global beeped. He answered it immediately.
"The latest infrared scans of the Great Basin show a faint pinpoint of light at the following coordinates," Augur stated as he sent the information to Sandoval's global.
"Excellent!" Da'an's attaché breathed. "Have you ever thought of joining the companions? Your abilities..." He winced as Augur cut the transmission with a rude electronic squauk.
Sandoval quickly relayed the information to his pilot.
Da'an's Audience Chamber
Da'an slowly paced before the data stream which projected a human news program's coverage of the comet's demise. He was considering his every possible course of action with regard to containing the damage this event would cause his people's agenda.
He was also surprised that he had not yet heard back from the Synod. Perhaps they believed that he would contact them...
Agent Sandoval suddenly appeared within the stream, over-riding the news telecast. Da'an gave him his complete attention.
"We have him, Da'an!" Sandoval looked both pleased and disappointed. "However, I must regretfully inform you that he may not make it to the clinic..."
"Transport him immediately to the nearest trauma center. Contact me once you've arrived."
Sandoval nodded and broke the link.
Da'an hung his head, his eyes closing momentarily. He projected both relief at Boone's rescue and fear that his implant might yet journey to the void.
He was about to wave the data stream off, when Quo'on's image made an appearance.
The North American Companion remained silent, determined that Quo'on would be the one to speak first.
"You know that we did not destroy the comet..." Quo'on began.
"So I have learned from the miriad of human news programs which now broadcast our shame."
Quo'on nodded. "The Synod agrees that our decision was most...unfortunate." The Synod leader regarded Da'an as though uncomfortable with the conversation. After several seconds during which neither spoke, Quo'on continued. "We are willing to help retrieve your implant. William Boone may prove crucial to our recovery from this unfortunate set-back. He must not be lost to us."
"I thank you, however, our implant, Sandoval, has already retrieved Boone." Da'an glared at his superior from the corners of his eyes. "He may yet succumb to the void."
"Do whatever you must to preserve him," Quo'on's color brightened. "Rest assured that your bond with the human shall not be challenged. His observations, should he survive, will be taken very seriously by the Synod."
Quo'on broke the transmission, leaving Da'an to contemplate the strange series of events which had led to this crossroad in Boone's life. The Taelon race had, as the Japanese said, 'Lost Face', however, Hawaii had been spared and his implant, William Boone had been elevated in status.
Despite his species, Boone was now bonded to Da'an and in the Taelon consciousness that made him an extension of Da'an. Quo'on had just informed him that the Synod would uphold that bond. Boone had just become an honorary Taelon...
Da'an mentally shook himself and moved toward his chair. There was much for him to do, beginning with the human's news broadcasts. He was about to call his attaché, when Sandoval contacted him.
"Boone has been delivered to Valley Hospital Medical Center, Nevada," the aide reported.
"I shall arrive shortly," Da'an stated. "You must return here. There is much I need for you to do. The information shall be transmitted to your global."
"But...Da'an, who will protect you here if I return now?" Sandoval looked uncomfortable.
"Captain Marquette is with Boone, is she not?"
"You have your orders, Agent Sandoval. Inform the Captain of my imminent arrival." As Sandoval made to cut the transmission, Da'an spoke. "Agent Sandoval...I am most pleased with your performance this evening."
Sandoval smiled before logging off.
Valley Hospital Medical Center,
Lili escorted Da'an from the Life Flight Landing Pad, amazed that the Taelon had shown up so soon after her own arrival. As soon as he disembarked, she briskly led the way back toward the Hospital's main building. The shuttle pilot was impressed by the Taelon's determination to keep up with her and slowed once they entered the building, suddenly determined to cut the alien some slack.
"How is he?" Da'an asked as they found themselves alone in an elevator.
"Extremely critical," she replied. "Apparently the blast we took back in Hawaii shattered his upper arm, sending part of the bone into the right side of his chest. Air slowly entered the wound, leading to a collapsed lung. Boone has been slowly suffocating ever since. He's also been bleeding internally from some blood vessels which were severed by the bone fragments."
Da'an projected an air of such sincere concern, that Lili could no longer meet his eyes. She looked down at her feet instead and continued.
"The Emergency Room Physicians put him on a respirator and pushed a chest tube into his side. They've managed to partially re-inflate the lung, but he needs to go to the operating room if they're to have a chance at saving him."
"Where is he now?" Da'an asked as the elevator doors opened.
Lili led the way out. "He's in the O.R. staging area. They need to get him a little more stabilized before they take him in." She stopped in front of a door and looked through the window before pushing it open and motioning Da'an to enter.
Boone lay on a gurney in the center of the small room as two nurses and a physician hovered over him. The three of them showed little surprise at the Taelon's entrance - they had already been told of his arrival.
Da'an moved to the left side of gurney and stared down at his implant. Boone was covered by a sheet from the waist down. It seemed as though every bit of his exposed flesh was hooked to a machine. An IV ran into his hand, another into his arm and a third into his neck. He was on a respirator and had a gastric tube in his nose. A nasty, blood-filled tube ran from his right side to a vacuum container. EKG leads were attached to his chest and legs.
Da'an visibly shuddered. Flesh was so delicate...so easily damaged, and so very difficult to repair...
Boone lay deathly pale and motionless. The implant was in a deep coma.
He started to reach out for the human's hand when alarms sounded on the monitor above the gurney.
"His blood pressure's dropping!" The physician yelled. "Get me the crash cart."
One of the RN's moved toward the large red metal cart and wheeled it closer. As she did so, the second nurse began pulling bottles and syringes from its drawers.
"You need to leave now," the physician shouted as he drew epinephrine into a syringe.
"Please...wait," Da'an held up a hand and then turned to face his implant. He grasped Boone's hand with his own and placed his other hand upon the human's chest.
Boone saw the tunnel open up in front of him and felt its calming light soothe his form. All the pain and worry began to drift away as he felt himself drawn toward it. He paused for a moment, uncertain. Wasn't there something he needed to do? He looked again and thought he saw Kate holding her arms out to him.
He made up his mind and began moving toward her.
Somebody suddenly blocked his way... A strange presence which gripped his hands and swung him away from the light - away from Kate...
"NO!" he cried out.
"Boone!" The familiar voice responded.
He looked at the presence, and no long blinded by the tunnel's light, beheld the blue, luminescent form of Da'an. Startled, he looked down to find that he too was a luminescent blue.
It didn't matter...Kate was here - she was calling to him! He started to look back over his shoulder and felt Da'an jerk him away.
"Let me go!" he yelled, struggling to free himself from the Taelon's suddenly strong grip.
"Your work on this plane is not yet finished," Da'an said. "You are forgetting all those lives which depend upon you." The Taelon tugged at him again. "Come away from here. Come to this life as you once entreated me to. You will see your mate again one day, but for now...stay. Stay with me..."
Like a jolt of electricity, he realized what was happening to him. Kate disappeared, as did the tunnel. When he looked down, he found himself once again human.
Da'an dropped his arms and stood before him, still a brilliant blue being. "I have done what I can," he said. "The rest is up to you."
The Taelon faded away, but even before he did, Boone knew that he would follow.
Lili moved quickly forward as Da'an broke contact with Boone and began to crumple. She managed to hook the Taelon under the arms and steady him. She was about to ask him if he was all right, when the alarms suddenly became silent. Expecting the worse, she looked up and found that Boone's monitor showed a steady heartbeat.
The doctor, who was still holding the unused syringe, gaped at the displays and turned to stare at the Companion.
"He's stable..." he said in a daze.
Da'an regained his footing and gently freed himself from the shuttle pilot's grasp.
"You WERE with Boone in the desert..." Lili began.
Da'an merely stared at her and then turned to face the physician. "I suggest that you complete his surgery before he decides to leave us again," the companion said in a calm voice. He then reached for Boone's hand and smiled gently at the contact before withdrawing from the gurney. He indicated the door and followed Lili from the room.
ICU Room 8
Valley Hospital Med. Ctr.
Two Days Later
Boone's personal nurse removed one of the IV's from his arm. He was now down to one. The chest tube had thankfully been removed that morning and he was finally able to relax in some comfort.
"There you go," the nurse said as she finished applying a pressure bandage to the IV wound.
"Thanks Regina," he said with a smile. She had been his primary care-giver since his transfer to the unit, and unlike many he had met through the years, she had come across as a truly caring individual. He was almost sorry that he was being transferred out, but Da'an had insisted that he be moved to Belman's clinic once he was out of danger.
"You just behave yourself at that fancy clinic," Regina replied. "No more whining all night long, OK?"
"He had to stifle a laugh. They both knew he never whined. "OK," he answered as she left the room. He then looked down at his skrill. The little guy was still hanging on - in fact, it looked like it was healing. He hoped that Dr. Belman would give him good news where it was concerned...he really had grown fond of the symbiote.
Reaching for the TV remote with his left hand, he turned to CNN, eager to see what had come of the Resistance's efforts. Funny that he hadn't thought to tune in earlier...the medication he had been receiving must have really knocked him for a loop.
"And repeating the hour's top story," the anchorman said. "Several worldwide space agencies, including NASA, have just confirmed the Taelon's earlier announcement that the comet would have splashed down in the Pacific ocean with a minimum of damage and little environmental impact. We repeat, NASA has just confirmed..."
He had just turned the TV off in disgust when Lili showed up.
"What's wrong?" she asked as she saw the sour look on his face.
He indicated the television. "Doors must be having a cow. After everything that happened... people dead, the shuttle pilot dead...after everything they went through to destroy that comet and show people that the Taelons refused to do so themselves..."
"I know." Lili's face hardened. "And you're right - Doors is having a cow. You should have seen him yesterday when the Taelons first announced that there had been no need to destroy the comet! The worst thing of all is that people are believing this - without question!"
"Doors himself once said that the Taelons were masters of spin control." He paused for a moment before continuing. "Still, you have to wonder...why do you suppose that none of those space agencies ever released the projected impact site to begin with?"
"I assumed that they kept it quiet to help prevent last-minute panic. There was no way that everyone on those islands could have been evacuated in time..."
"That's what I thought as well, but now that I really think about it, I realize that many of them would have gotten away and survived," Boone said in a low tone. "The Taelon's must have been controlling those agencies right from the beginning. Someone saw the potential for a relations disaster..."
"Da'an!" They both said in unison.
Less than two hours later, Boone was settled into a comfortable room in Belman's institute as she and Companion scientist Ne'eg examined his arm and the skrill.
"Your skrill will need to be replaced," Ne'eg said. The Taelon medic rarely talked, and when he did, he was unusually soft-spoken.
Boone wondered if Taelons were subject to shyness...
"Can we give this one a chance?" the Taelon's security chief asked. "We've been through a lot together and it's fought for it's life even as I have...I'd like to at least give it a chance."
Ne'eg looked at him oddly. "Your skrill is not a sentient being."
"According to you. The skrill might feel differently about it." Seeing Ne'eg turn blue, Boone realized that he was pushing the Taelon over the edge. Ne'eg was not used to dealing with peculiar humans. "Look, Ne'eg," he began again. "Let's just say that I consider the skrill to be a pet of sorts. Why don't we wait and see if it recovers before deciding anything?"
"It may never be able to function properly again," the scientist commented as he regained control of his form. "However, we can afford to give it at least as long as your arm requires to heal."
"Thank-you." Boone nodded to the Taelon, who quickly took his leave.
"You really have a way with them," Belman laughed.
"It's a gift," he shrugged. "So, what about the arm?"
"You've got enough hardware holding it together to set off airport alarms." She held his x-ray up to the light so he could see. "It should be stable enough for you to return to light duty in a month."
"A month?" Boone frowned. "Why can't I at least return to my office when my chest heals up?"
"I hate to tell you this, but a large percentage of collapsed lungs have the unfortunate tendencey to spontaneously re-collapse. Until the inside of your chest cavity has completely healed, you face that risk. It's not your arm that's keeping you out of the office, it's your lung." Seeing that Boone was about to protest, she continued. "Would you rather stay out of the office for a month or have a relapse and be out for two?"
"I believe that Boone sees the wisdom of your words, Doctor." Da'an himself entered the room, and approached the bed. "Ne'eg tells me that you wish to keep your skrill?" he addressed his implant.
"And if it cannot serve it's purpose after it is healed?"
"I will agree to a replacement."
"Very well." Da'an turned toward Belman. "Some time alone with him, please."
She immediately left the room, closing the door behind her.
"So, how is big blue taking this?" Boone said as Da'an took the a seat beside his bed.
Da'an actually smiled. "He is most displeased with those in the Synod who refused to reverse their decisions."
"I'll bet that Zo'or stays away from Washington for a while."
The small smile remained on Da'an's face as he nodded his agreement.
"Has Quo'on told you how the resistance acquired the weapon?" Boone had been living in fear that the Synod leader had surmised his role in the programming of the device. It was time to know his fate.
"The weapon was taken from our facility in Newfoundland," Da'an related. "One of the implanted officers charged with guarding the device has been implicated in its theft."
"They actually believe that an implant was responsible?" Boone put on a shocked expression.
Da'an gave him an annoyed look. "The implant was found in the bunker...dead. Dr. Belman's autopsy confirms that he had been lobotomized before his death."
Boone suddenly became queasy as he absorbed the information. His CVI flashed back to the three men who had returned to the base.
"They have a few things they need to do before they can leave," the leader had said.
"Am I right in my assumption that you did not know this implant's fate?" Da'an asked as he noted his implant's change of expression.
Boone gulped and shook his head. "Why a lobotomy?" he managed to ask.
"Dr. Belman believes that severing the CVI's right and left hemisphere connections may have destroyed the motivational imperative as well as rendered the implant extremely subject to the suggestions of his assailants. He did have the assess codes to the bunker."
"But surely he didn't have the ability to actually program the device?"
"We both know that he did not, however the Synod is not entirely certain of what an implant may or may not be capable of learning with the aid of their CVI. You have learned the Taelon language - something which was previously thought to be impossible. James Pike, learned of our ancient myths somehow, also through use of a CVI."
"So for right now, the Synod is convinced that the lobotomized implant programmed the device," Boone whispered.
"Da'an..." Boone began. "You really were with me in the desert, weren't you? And you brought me back when I was about to die..."
"I was with you." With a graceful hand gesture, the Companion indicated himself and then Boone. "We have been bonded together and now share a weak, but strengthening telepathic attachment."
"...That night back in DC..."
Da'an inclined his head. "It is well that I attempted it, or I never would have located you in time."
"Are the others aware of this?" Boone asked with growing concern.
"They are. In light of the accuracy of your past advice to the Synod, Quo'on has sanctioned our bond. You now hold status in Taelon society."
"I'm a member by association?" Boone shook his head. Once again he was being forced to keep secrets... "Da'an," he began as he leaned closer to the companion. "No other human being must know of this, unless they are implanted. Not even Captain Marquette."
"I do not understand..." Da'an tilted his head, conveying his puzzlement. "Surely you wish others to know the honor you have received?"
"Remember all my contacts? A great many of them do not trust your people. If they were to find out about this, they'd kill me."
Da'an blinked several times in rapid succession. "And what of Captain Marquette?"
Boone thought quickly. "She has many of the same contacts. For her own protection, it's best that she not know."
The North American Companion nodded and arose from his chair. "It shall be as you wish. I will visit with you again as time permits."
Before he could leave, Boone spoke. "It was you who ordered the space agencies to remain silent, wasn't it?"
Da'an turned to face him. "It was," he said simply.
"Da'an, if that comet had come down, you would have been responsible for all those deaths!"
"I trusted that you would carry through with your plan to destroy the comet," the companion explained. "The Synod, my race's ruling council, had already decreed that humans were not to know of the impact location. They suggested that those agencies be made to release false information of the comet's projected impact site from the beginning, however, I persuaded Quo'on to simply remain silent."
Boone stared at Da'an, willing him to continue.
"I realized that it was highly likely that the resistance might use the situation to their advantage."
"You intentionally allowed the resistance a chance to try to humiliate the Synod, knowing full well that you would be turning the tables on them." Boone was both impressed and terrified. "You took an awfully big risk, gambled two million lives a well as your own people's credibility..."
"Those lives would have been my responsibility either way," the Taelon replied, bowing his head in shame. "This was the only way in which to preserve our two people's fragile alliance. It was," he said raising his head to regard his implant, "the lesser of two evils."
"Evil may not be done that good may come of it." Boone quoted.
Da'an nodded gravely before departing, leaving Boone to reflect upon the moral dilemmas yet to come.
Alright, this is the last post I'll be doing today, so I hope those of you who are reading this have enjoyed the wonderful work of Miss Tina Price. As before, I'm not Tina Price, and never will be (short of legally changing my name, but I'm not THAT big a fan). :) I'll be posting the rest of her work sporadically for the next two weeks until I get to her 17th story, The Stranger which I hope to have posted before the 25th.